Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mary pondered, a meditation on the hidden gifts of Christmas.

Confusion can be frustrating. It can make us grit out teeth or even scream out in frustration. Confusion can also be a call for reflection. It reminds us, we don't know it all nor do we understand half the things we think we do. It shows us our need and is an opportunity to enter into deep reflection with the promise of discovering something True, Beautiful, or Good. I think this was Mary's experience in that stable so many years ago. 

Hundreds of scholars have debated the pondering of Mary's heart. I guess the thoughts of one hack can't hurt. I want to consider three possibilities. Three confusions found in the Christmas story. Three confusions that remind us of the love of God, his goodness towards man and the glory of Christmas.

Three maybes that Mary may have pondered.
Maybe it was the oddity of the messenger that Prompted Mary to ponder. How odd to her that God would choose to make shepherds, the unclean and shady men who smelled more like an animal than a human. These outliers are chose oracles. No way, that makes no sense. God chooses the great and values the best not the lowly and marginal people. She could have thought, Where these men God's herald? stinky smelly shepherds ordained as God's evangelists? When I have good new, I go first to my loved ones. I run head long to those dear to my heart to share my joy. Is that what God did? If so, what a picture of grace flavored love. God's intention in the form of angelic invitation beginning with the lowly. God's love flowing down to the depths of the valley finding the castaways, hungry souls. Men unfit, barred from the temple, unclean. Men in the night air secretly longing for redemption. Towards such men, God's love runs with good news. Was, God 's love towards such men, the thought she pondered on that night?

Maybe it was the oddity of the message that Prompted Mary to ponder. Maybe Mary pondered the announcement they told her. Now the text, does not say, but Surely the shepherds were asked to explain why in the middle of the night men of bad reputations were going from house to house in search of a baby boy. Any good parent would ask such questions and Mary and Joseph, I am sure where such parents.

In my minds eye I see the shepherds, one part hillbilly the other duck dynasty. I can see them with wild eyed wonder retelling the angels announcement. Of how they were watching over those sheep not far from town, (sheep that a historian 300 years later clams were the flocks set aside for sacrifice in the temple.) I can see those shepherds, faces slightly sunburnt still aglow from the encounter. Telling tales of Angels declaring the birth of a king in the backwoods of Israel. I see Mary intently listening to the Angels words, "I bring you good news of great joy, that is for all people" did Mary ponder that all. A king is over a nation not the "all" of all people. Could it be, the good news of great tidings is bigger than the next political movement? Bigger than Israel, beyond Palestine. Is it news for all people. A king born for all people? Quite confusing for Jewish girl of 18. Maybe that is what she pondered.

Or could it be something else, no less confusing than a God of all grace who's love moves him to choose first, the unlikely, and undone. No less befuddling than a gospel of a king for all people, and not just the privileged few.

There's one more possibility I would like to propose Mary pondered. Maybe it was just her, baby, her little man. Maybe, her confusion over the baby in her arms or just the wonder of a new life. A mother looking at her child for the first time can't help but marvel. Did Mary marvel and just reflect on the little body before her; A little seed of life, full of potential. When she looked at him did she see, an uncertain future? His destiny, mixed in prophecy and sung by angels that night, did it still hold a mystery just out of Her grasp. Did she see the possibility before her, salvation in her hands? The full potential of redemption's plan ready to begin, all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. Did she consider the implication, unfold them one by one. Was their pause to consider Isaiah's word as she held her child. Did she ever think that this baby, once a man would give himself to be the substitution for a nation, a people redeemed in him.

I don't know what Mary pondered but I know who she held. I have pondered him through in the dryness and days undone by grace. I ponder the truth I have unfolded time and again, a truth resting in that manger, realized on a cross. I have learned in reflection of a special Christmas gift hidden in seed form amidst the hay of that manger. This gift can best seen out of the corner of our eyes, seen in those standing next to us. Mary held the body of Christ. 33 years later that same body would bleed and bind a people beyond time and for eternity, into one new humanity. Just like there is no cross without Christmas, no hope without His first heartbeat. There is no community of faith without a baby in a manger. How silly we would be to gather together as we do, if he were not born yet how profound it is that he was born to gather.

In a world that would strip us of who we are to wrap us in other another garment. A world that calls us outliers, stinking Shepard, blind backwards sheep. We are reminded that God is with us; In history and time, in mystery and community. And So in our greeting and treating of each other we are Christ, God with us, in the world. We are Christ with us, given to one another as a gift, to weep with us, to smile with us, to laugh with us, to give the gift of presence. A double meeting where sinner laughs with sinner and sinner and sinner enjoy the savior. A double blessing of presence where the Savior's presence is enjoyed in the presence of believing hearts. It is in our sharing he is revealed. A Sacramental gift, an invisible reality made visible, even tangible, through the smiles and laughter, even in the pancake parties and pajama pants. I see jesus in his body - this is most true for me at Christmas.

So may our meeting have the gravity of "the other" also near, and may our greeting have the levity of costly grace entered in. That we may in whole heartedly honesty with a loving tremble in our voice, say, "Merry Christmas - God is with us, God is with us all, let us rejoice!"

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Video on Empathy

Empathy is a common grace given to all humanity that should be cultivated.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Walking with Jesus through Good Friday (Part 4)

Below is the scriptural stages of the Cross, with my reflections over the weekend and a prayer. Blessings

Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Luke 23: 44-46: It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

Here we have two signs and one example. Such signs are a part of God's ways in dealing with man at major junctions in human history. He knows the desperate stupidity and unbelief of human nature, and so in his mercy gives us a clue to led us on towards faith. There was a sign for an unbelieving world. The darkness at mid-day was a miracle which would compel men to think, "who was this Jesus?". There was a sign for the professing Church. The tearing of the curtain which hung between the holy place and the holy of holies, was a miracle which would state a change has happened. The heart of every religious person may ask, 'how did Jesus death affect how we relate to God?'

One example: There is a sense in which our Jesus' words supply a lesson to all true Christians. They show us the manner in which death should be met by all God's children. They afford an example which every believer should strive to follow. Like our Master, we should fear not at deaths door. We should regard him as a vanquished enemy, an enemy with no teeth. Death make take us but it will be without a sting. Christ has taken on himself and take away in himself the sting of death by His death.

We should await his approaches with calmness and patience, and believe that when it is our time, we are in good able hands that will keep up and deliver us into the glories of our heavenly Father. Happy indeed are those who end well, with hearts confessing, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day." (2 Tim. 1:12)

Prayer: Lord, grant us trust in you that when our time on earth in ended we may enter your rest and ever be with you.

Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb
Matthew 27: 57-60: When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed.

Reflections: His work is accomplished but what evidence do we have of this finished work. The lamb is dead. The blood has been poured on the alter. This fact is placed beyond dispute, by those that buried him could not have been deceived. Their own hands and eyes attest to the fact, Jesus whom they handled was a corpse.

The importance of the fact before us is far greater than most would suppose.
If Christ did not die, there would be an end of all the comfort of the Gospel. Nothing short of His death could have paid man's debt to God. His incarnation, and preaching, the parables, and miracles, his righteous life and complete obedience to the law, would have been for nothing, if He had not died. Because we did not need a teacher, or therapist or community organizer we needed a Savior. One who would stand in our place, a substitutionary willing and worthy to redeem humanity.

The penalty threatened to the first Adam was death, an eternal death in hell. If the second Adam had not really and actually died in our place, as well as taught us truth, the original penalty would have continued in full force against Adam and all of us as well. It was the life-blood of Christ which was to save our souls. So the sadness of Jesus' life-less corpse is the assurance of a finished payment - the lamb had been sacrificed - our sin has been covered.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your death. May we see clearly and love dearly what you accomplished in your death.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Walking with Jesus through Good Friday (Part 3)

Below is the scriptural stages of the Cross, with my reflections over the weekend and a prayer. Blessings

Eighth Station: Jesus is Helped by Simon the Cyrenian to Carry the Cross
Mark 15: 21: They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.

Reflections: Simon was a chosen instrument not by a roman soldier but by the will of God. He was given the unpleasant task of sharing in the journey of the cross. He was willing to help, not to please the roman soldier but to be an instrument of grace and easy in the journey of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, grant us willing spirits that we may be your instruments on earth. May our hearts say yes before the request I'd given.

Ninth Station: Jesus instructs the Women of Jerusalem
Luke 23: 27-31: A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time, people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?"

Reflections:It is compassion to warn of coming danger.
He tells them of the total Destruction of Jerusalem that was soon to happen, in less than 30 years. He was operated in His prophetic office in giving this remarkable prediction. It can be said that Jesus was 'busy. He had been 'tied up, in meetings all day and their was a lot on his mind. Using our standards of jusgment, we could say, Jesus would've been justified in being distracted and inward focused. He had the cross before him yet he took time to help others avoid suffering. Pain can make us turn inward and focus on ourselves yet in the middle of great suffering Jesus is still other-focused.

Prayer: Lord, grant us gentle spirits that we may comfort those who mourn.

Tenth Station: Jesus is Crucified
Luke 23: 33-34: When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. [Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."]

Reflections: Our Lord's words of gracious intercession. Jesus' first words were, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." His own racking agony of body did not make Him forget others. The first word from the cross was a prayer for the souls of His murderers. He operates in his priestly office by interceding for those who crucified Him. "Father," He said, "forgive them.". He is the one who forgives and are given the task of sharing what he has done and his word "forgiven".

Prayer: Lord, grant us merciful hearts that we may bring your reconciliation and forgiveness to all.

Eleventh Station: Jesus Promises His Kingdom to the repentant Thief
Luke 23: 39-43: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Reflections: Here we see jesus imply he would soon operate in his kingly office. he would soon win the victory and swing wide the door of paradise to the repentant thief. Jesus is the only one who can say, "you will be with me in Paradise". No one but Jesus has that kind of authority. he is the king and we are all like the thief people whose crimes against the king are punishable by death.

I marvel at Thief's words. His response in so few words, says so much. It is a lifetime of prayer, and a world of desperation packed into three little words. "Jesus, remember me." Such a short prayer has a library of truth behind it. 7 truths can be deserved from his words. They are outlined below.

1. He believed in an afterlife, that Humanity lives on after the body is dead.
2. He believed in an eternal judgement - At that time there will be a judgment. The life of each man would be judged.
3. He believed something special, different, holy was happening in Jesus suffering.
4. He believed Jesus was the righteous king - Christ alone have the right and authority to rule in such judgments. Only at Jesus' word was one granted entrance to that Kingdom.
5. He believed salvation was found in gaining entry to this kingdom. Jesus' kingdom was a better world than the present evil world.
6. He believed jesus was a Gracious King. Giving pardon on those who truly repent and granting access into his eternal kingdom, a kingdom of which no man did not deserve entry.
7. He believed jesus was the only way of salvation - He trusts fully upon a dying Savior for salvation.

Prayer: Lord, grant us perseverance that we may never stop seeking you. That in our desperation we seek you, in our suffering we seek you and we pray boldly with truth under us as if our life depended on it. Help our hearts grasp your Lordship and may we not just call you but be servants of the king.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Walking with Jesus through Good Friday (Part 2)

Below is the scriptural stages of the Cross,

Fourth Station: Jesus is Denied by Peter
Matthew 26: 69-75: Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about!" As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus the Nazorean." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man!" A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away." At that he began to curse and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times." He went out and began to weep bitterly.

Peter did not clearly see himself, even when Jesus told him. He did not discern his heart level beliefs. He believed he loved God more than he did. Our own hearts are a labyrinth of an unknown design. It is a mix of pagan temples and mental cages with paths that lead nowhere, turning back in on itself, taking us back around to the same answers and idols as before. Yet unlike before we assure ourself that we have proven our case in sure logic and sound argument. In the end, We reinforce our original position and worship our old idols for we have only dabbled in the art of self-deception and traveled the path of a thousand fruitless journeys.

Only in the light of the Gospel do I see the danger of my own deception for I am a sinner. I see my life to be lived by the faithfulness of the Son of God who loves me. And the grace of freedom in the gift of the Spirit, who can transform a labyrinth of folly into a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, grant us the gift of honesty, the clarity of knowing how you see the world,
that we may not fear to speak the truth even when difficult.

Fifth Station: Jesus is Judged by Pilate
Mark 15: 1-5, 15: The chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He said to him in reply, "You say so." The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, "Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of." Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.... Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barrabas... [and] handed [Jesus] over to be crucified.

Reflections: A way of viewing life that is not like the world sees. Pilate for all his learning could not discern the truth. The crowd in all their fervor did not discern their king right before them.

Lord, grant us discernment that we may see as you see, not as the world sees. May we know truth and live truth as you are the truth.

Sixth Station: Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns
John 19: 1-3: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said,"Hail, King of the Jews!" And they struck him repeatedly.

If we call ourselves Christians, we should expect a crown of thorns and not the red carpet. The more we let our light shine, the more we act out of step with the new morality. The more we live counter cultural, the more the "Pilate" of this world dismiss us. The more we stand up for the truth, the more the "political forces' of this world mock us and place on us the purple cloaks of satire. The oppression and marginalizing of the gospel message reveals both darkness in the hearts of the powerful and Jesus like courage in the hearts of his people.

Lord, grant us patience in times of suffering
that we may offer our lives as a sacrifice of praise. For we know and understand suffering for your name sake is a part of the Christian life.

Seventh Station: Jesus Bears the Cross
John 19: 6, 15-17: When the chief priests and the guards saw [Jesus] they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him." ... They cried out, "Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your king?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.

Reflections: Only Jesus could take up his cross. It was his purpose and mission in life. Our strength is directly related to our commitment to the mission and our dependance on God. Two things Jesus lived flawlessly. Even when faced with profound rejection he did not waver but remained fixed on the purpose for with he had come.

Prayer: Lord, grant us strength of purpose that we may faithfully bear our crosses each day and be on mission for your glory.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Walking with Jesus through Good Friday (Part 1)

Below is the scriptural stages of the Cross, with my reflections over the weekend and a prayer. Blessings

First Station: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
Matthew 26:36-41: Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me." He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will." When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, "So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Reflections: here we look out at biblical strength and wisdom, the Son of God in prayer. Christ teaches us that in all activity, the first activity is prayer. Also here we see the first drops of atoning blood, a for taste of the work to come.

Prayer: Lord, give us the blessing won at Gethsemane. Give us a heart of prayer. May our prayers grow to faintly resemble our Lord's heart, give over to worship, willing to choose your will even if it is hard. May it be granted to us the strength and wisdom found in the first drops of shed blood sprinkled on the altar of prayer. And in so ground us in Gethsemane' strength and wisdom won by Christ that we may seek to follow God's will in all things.

Second Station: Jesus, Betrayed by Judas, is Arrested
Mark 14: 43-46: Then, while [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. His betrayer had arranged a signal with them, saying, "the man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him and lead him away securely." He came and immediately went over to him and said, "Rabbi." And he kissed him. At this they laid hands on him and arrested him.

Reflections: A symbol of friendship was bent into a sign of betrayal. Who knows Judas motives? No one knows why, he did what he did. What is clear is Jesus did not respond to betrayal with bitterness. He responded only to the will of the Father not the malice of men. He responded with Gospel!

Prayer: Lord, grant us the courage of our convictions, that you are sufficient for all our needs, that our lives may faithfully reflect the good news you bring. And when we are touched by the betrayer's kiss me we respond with Gospel.

Third Station: Jesus is Condemned by the Sanhedrin
Luke 22: 66-71: When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought him before their Sanhedrin. They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us," but he replied to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?" He replied to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth.

Unlike the progression of the day, hearts remain dark long after daylight turns to noonday. We are all the Sanhedrin. We have all pass judgment on Jesus. We have all tried to build our own kingdom. We are all in need of his righteousness to dispels all the darkness. We are all in need of his discerning light, so we may live as a people of daylight justice in a dark world. Power struggles are messy, only because we struggle for power instead of working for his justice in the service of our king.

Lord, give us the grace to loose the struggle for power, empower trust to win in our hearts. Grant us an sense of what moves your heart, an understanding of what makes you smile and a knowledge of your righteousness that we may never cease to work, to bring about the justice of the kingdom that you promised.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Illustration and backgourd of the second act in the justification controversy (Acts 11-13, Gal 2)

1. Paul, Barnabas, and Titus, trip to Jerusalem, to give a love gift and have a private meeting with leaders on the jewish openness of the gentile mission.

2. Jewdisers also called the "circumcision party" Infiltrate the Antioch church and after Paul leaves for Jerusalem. They lay low and do recognizance seeing to spy out the freedom Paul and his gang have in Christ.(Gal 2:4-5)

3. Private meeting with Peter, James, half-brother of Jesus , and John.

4. While still in Jerusalem the persecution under Agrippa begins James, brother of John dies.

5. Peter imprisoned. Church prayed (including Paul, Barnabas, and Titus). Peter miraculously set free, ducks out of town, maybe made his way to Antioch. (After having spoken with Paul, Antioch would have been on his radar).

6. Peter in Antioch hangs with gentile and Jewish believers, some men come from Jerusalem and individuals who say they are from James, They encourage believers to follow the Law and be Jewish like Jesus. The Jewdisers see this as an opportunity to gain a foot hold and so they grandstand the James group's preferences into their theological points. Peter decided to go with the flow, perhaps not realizing that his example would make the Gentile Christians feel like second-class citizens in the church. He thought he was just giving up BBQ and followed Jewish dietary laws (Gal 2:12–14), maybe holidays and festivals (Gal 4:10) but he was making room for so much more.

7. Paul, Barnabas, and Titus, travel back to Antioch, not long after arriving Paul has his confrontation with Peter. Peter repents and is restored. Peter returned to Jerusalem stronger in his convictions.

The Cast of Characters in the story and ideological background of the justification controversy.

A. Pharisaic Judaism (saved by law) live law (biblical customs and behavior interrupted by Pharisaic Judaism) in covenant with God (by circumcision) and your acceptable before God
1. Taught that man must keep the law of Moses for salvation.
i. Casusitic (technical legal/ethical term) understanding of sin
ii. They emphasized sinful deeds, rather than sinfulness
iii. Parallel with Islam
iv. circumcision was not a sign of the covenant but the way into covenant with God.
2. Much of the Judaizers, theological reflection flows from this camp.

B. Judaizers (Jesus + law) accept Jesus and live law (biblical customs and behavior interrupted by Hellenistic Judaism) in covenant with God (by circumcision) and your acceptable before God.
1. The Judaizers, false brothers and circumcision group can be considered the same group (ideologically).
2. They are Jewish Christians, likely Pharisees according to Acts 15, who, with good intentions, sought to supplement Paul’s gospel by requiring that the basics of the Law be followed: circumcision and food laws. They believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but they do not believe that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone.
i. They were not Jewish because they believed in Jesus.
ii. They were not Christian because they believe in the need for the law and circumcision to be justified.
3. Galatians 6:12-13 gives us their motives. They are people that think by compelling Gentiles to be circumcised they might avoid persecution by being seen as a sect of judaism thus avoiding Roman/political persecution and by getting Gentiles to be circumcised they impress Jewish leaders.

C. Jewish Christians
1. They believe in Jesus and understand the gospel but live a culture of a law keeping community.
2. The Jewish heritage and way of life guides every aspect of their existence from the way they eat to the holidays they celebrate yet they fully trust in Christ sufficiency for salvation.
3. They tend to seem a bit ethnocentric or just racist yet it is their perspective on purity that is behind their actions not hatred of an ethnic group for the most part.

D. Peter and Barnabas (issue of conviction and conduct)
1. Peter believed that people are saved by grace alone but had a hard time living it out. Peter and Paul agreed but Peter did not realize his conduct was opposite to what the Gospel teaches.
2. His conviction(belief) was true but his conduct was not not in line with belief. He was play acting - "playing a part" - thus the charge of hypocrisy.
3. See Peter’s problem of conduct during table fellowship with Gentiles in Gal. 2:11-16.

E. Paul (in Galatians)
1. Saved by grace alone, through faith, extended to Jew or Gentile, fellowship and live out the Gospel together
a. He argues against Judaizers.
b. He argues against Peter more as an example (but not his main concern.)
c. He argues against Pharisaic Judaism. (Again, not his main concern)

F. Gentile believers (See Paul)

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Monday, September 23, 2013

New Testement History and Letters: A fictional narrative on the Occasion of Galatians

Paul is resting from his journey and doing his taxes when someone knock on his door. It is a friend he made on his journey though Galatia. The friend looks relieved to see him but worried quickly washes over his face. Paul was protective of his young flocks, he had planted only a few months earlier (Acts 13:1–14:28) and this unexpected visitor makes him fear the worst. As they greet one another, Paul asks about the churches in Galatia. Paul motions for him to sit down, relax and goes to get him some water. As Paul returns, his friend lists the cities he traveled through. Paul only interrupts him to ask about various believers, naming many from memory as if they where his own family. "How is Alphios the tanner, the one Barnabas called rawhide." "What about Tullius of Iconium?" "How is Lois of Lystra? Now she knows her Torah!" "How about her daughter Eunice, is her marriage still solid? Greek men can be hard to deal with." Paul's care and concern was evident on his face and in every question.

The two laughed and shared stories into the night. Yet there was a sadness begins the man's eyes, an urgency in his voice that compelled Paul passed such nostalgia and on to more pressing matters. "So why are you really here?" Paul asked in a inviting voice. Sinking into his chair, he tells Paul the reason for his visit. His friend tells him that teachers had come in behind Him teaching things contrary to what was told them, even criticizing Paul's gospel as inadequate.

Paul asks, "Who are these men? And more importantly what exactly are they teaching?" The man begins "I have been to many of the church's, and the Testimony is the same in each of them." He goes on to describe in great detail what he knows.

At first many did not believe them. When we told them you were a good man, who was almost stoned to death for the sake of Christ. They did not disagree. One man, an Ex-Priest said he was sure, You believed in Jesus just like he believes in Jesus, that you loved Jesus like he loved Jesus but in your zeal you had forgotten wisdom. You abridged the authentic Gospel to make it more appealing to us, "God fearing" Gentiles. He told us Jesus was the messiah and he died for our sins just as you did, but then he added to be accepted by God we must become Jewish and live as a law-keeping community.

"Sounds like they want to impress the Jews and conform to roman law by making us look like a sect of Judaism and not the fulfillment of it." Paul realizes he is thinking out loud, "Sorry, please continue"

Ok, well - Paul, they told us your gospel was received from man, not from God. They clammed your Gospel was from Jerusalem given to you just before Agrippa's fury turned on the church. But because of your abridging of the message, it is their duty to give us the gospel that truly brings acceptance and surely bring us into the people of God.

They said, "Paul is preaching cheap grace, Grace without the law, acceptance from God without submission to God." They said, "Paul preaches a gospel that does not include the cost of Jerusalem and the law. Jesus may have died for us but becoming Jewish makes you part of God's people."

Another, kind of stout fellow said, "You preached a watered down gospel that did not make Gentiles count the cost of becoming a disciple of Christ. He clammed Circumcision is necessary for true conversion, and entry into the people of God. Which he said was measured by being circumcised and be disciplined to follow all the law. He said, only if we follow the law and get circumcised will God accept us. Jesus may have died for us but becoming Jewish makes you part of God's people.

Paul was mad but he held his composer as not to upset the man anymore than he was already. Yet, Paul's is visibly upset in the same way, a new father is when they hear the first cried of pain and panic coming from his newborn child. Paul reassures his friend that the Gospel he preached to them is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of salvation in Christ alone, in whom we gain acceptance from God by faith alone, and through whom we participate as members of God's people. The Gospel, which God himself gave him by revelation. The gospel that was affirmed by Peter James and John not taught to him by them.

The two talk long into the night, Paul encouraged his friend in the Gospel then retired to think and pray. Paul thinks to himself, "sounds like the false brother that encouraged Peter's hypocrisy. It may be them, same false teaching, or maybe some of their disciples."

--- --- --- ---

Later in the silence of the night, Paul pulse quickened as he thought about their gospel and its implication. He deliberated with himself and to God, "They believed in the necessity of circumcision for conversion, and living as a law-keeping community to gains acceptance before God. Is their Gospel, Jesus plus Moses? If the law and circumcision are the means of sinners being granted access into God's people (the Jews) and if only God's people are accepted by God. Then they believe you have to become a Jew to be a Christian." In a moment it all became clear to him. If they believed in the necessity of circumcision for conversion, for entry into God's people. If they believed in the centrality of doing the works of the law for acceptance from God. Then they are Usurping the work of Christ and power of the Spirit by trusting in circumcision and the Law. Then Christ is made to be no longer sufficient for salvation. For them circumcision is needed for conversion and the law is necessary for acceptable because they don't fully trust Christ to save them. They are preaching a false Gospel.

He sits down in the dead of night and feverishly begin to writes. His words aimed at countering the false teachers teachings and clarifying his own position.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

New Testament History and Letters: The letter to the Galatians and the justification controversy

In the early days of the church two key theological developments expanded the Gospel mission. The developments changed everything and resistance to these developments led to the justification controversy and was a major turning point in the mission of the church. This is the story of those developments and the men that championed them.

The terrorist and the fisherman
Gospel is expanding all over Judea and Samaria. A jewish guy named Saul of Tarsus is ready to go jehad on some Christian infidels (8:1; 9:1) and begins a rain of terror that is merciless. Yet, on a trip to Damascus the guy voted most likely to kill a Christian, becomes one. Proving the point that God loves irony and plots twists the likes not seen in even lifetime movies.

On that eventful road, Jesus appears to him, knocking him off his horse and blinds him. Jesus slapped him so hard the "S" in his name moved back three spaces. Jesus had Saul, now Paul's full attention. He commissions Paul to be an apostle to the nations (Acts 9; Gal. 1:15). He is taken to Damascus where he is healed and filled. After his little Damascus Pentecost, he takes a sabbatical in Arabia to think things over with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:19, Gal. 1:16–18). After a little light travel, Paul makes a beeline for Jerusalem to tell the gospel revealed to him and get a short Jesus seminar from Peter and James (Acts 9:26–30; Gal. 1:18). He does some preaching around Jerusalem, some Jews plot to kill him so he exits stage right. Paul ends up laying low like an unemployed 30-something single man living in his mom's basement in Tarsus.

The First Development: More than just a Jewish religion
Meanwhile, as Paul was off by himself. Peter was running all over teaching and preaching and trying to keep the movement on track (9:32). He ended up in Joppa where he had a vision that he could have bacon with his kosher coffee. Peter's vision gave good reason for his love for pork chops and a sharp poke of conviction for his unwillingness to preach to Gentiles (Acts 10). The real point of the vision was to destroy any ethnocentric religion (Acts 10:28-29): to swing wide the door of the Gospel to the Gentiles. This was confirmed when the Holy Spirit was given to the house of Cornelius as Petter peaches the Gospel. So with a side of spareribs in hand he preaches to a house full of Romans and God goes all "Pentecost" on their tongues, filling them with His Spirit. God wanted to take the gospel to the nations, the gentile nations! Peter now sees that Israel's messiah is the world's savor and those ribs never tasted so sweet.

The first rumblings of controversy
Peter made a bee line to Jerusalem to tell everybody, little did he know the controversy his news would stir up. Once in Jerusalem Peter tells the church his news. A group of self-proclaimed teachers called the circumcision group, mostly made up of ex-priests who had been converted criticized him. (Acts 6:7, Acts 11:2-3). But when Peter told the that God has extended his Spirit as a conformation that the Gentiles can be saved, they reluctantly affirmed, with Peter that Gentiles can be saved. The conflict with the circumcision group was to be a foretaste of more conflict to come, for now Peter
I. Cornelius and Criticism
After the Gentile Pentecost at Cornelius' house (Acts 10). Peter defended what happened at Cornelius' house (Acts 11:1-18). When the church gathered to hear Peter's news, the circumcision groups was uncomfortable with gentile converts and criticized Peter for making himself "impure". The theological question on the table was, "Can the Gentiles be saved? Is salvation for the Gentiles or only the Jews?" Peter's vision and Cornelius' conversion answered the question, with an emphatic "Yes!"

Is the Good News also for the Gentiles or just for the Jews?
Answer: it has always been God's plan to make one people from all the nations. Yes salvation is for the Gentles. Jesus is the savor of the world not just one ethnic group.

Approaching sound of thunder: Growing conflict over gentile converts
Meanwhile in the far northern most tip of Israel, a city called Antioch, Gentile converts were already filling the church (Acts 11:19-21). Barnabas was sent to help with the multi-ethnic congregation. They had a good problem: way too many New Gentile Christians and not nearly enough able anointed well informed teachers. Barnabas needs help teaching all of them and remembers the wild eyed scholar down in tarsus. Instead of a help wanted add in the Antioch "Sentinel", Barnabas hopped a camel and convinced Paul to return with him to Antioch. Under Paul and Barnabas' ministry the Antioch church flourishes.

Opportunity, and infiltration
While teaching in Antioch, a prophetic word was given about a soon coming famine. The believers at Antioch saw this not as a time to lament the coming woe, but as an opportunity to prepare the storehouse like Joseph did in Egypt. They gathered a collection for the Jerusalem church so they could be ready as well. Paul, Barnabas and a young gentile named Titus, (we will the three P.B.T.) made a trip to Jerusalem, to give the love gift (Acts 11:27–30; Gal. 2:1–10). Paul also wanted to have a private meeting with leaders on the jewish openness to the gentile mission. As P.B.T was on the road to Jerusalem, a subversive and slavish evil slipped in the back door of Antioch. False brothers (Jewdisers), men claiming to be Christians, quietly infiltrate the Antioch church and began ground-level reconnaissance in preparation for full scale subterfuge (Gal 2:4-5).

Alliances and Allies in the Gospel
Around the same time in Jerusalem, Paul, Barnabas, James, Peter, and John have a private meeting. Private because Paul was still a wanted man in Jerusalem. Paul, having been a legalistic Jewish theologian/terrorist, could anticipate points of tension many Jews would have with his gospel and feared his work among the Gentiles would be would be in vain. He did not want to see Christ's church split in two, along racial lines. They compared notes and stories. Neither Paul nor the Jerusalem apostles had to change their gospel message, but they were fully in agreement, the gospel is good news: salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. (Gal 2:2, 6-7). They recognized the special anointing on Paul to minister to the Gentiles. They saw where God was moving in Paul's ministry like he did in Peter's Ministry (2:8). The Spirit's work was evident in the words, stories, and lives changed by the gospel. God was at work the only difference was the people groups. The men could not turn a blind eye to it, even as they met together the truth of it all, was confirming in their hearts.

In the end, They all agree. First, that guys like Titus don't need to get "sniped". (Gal 2:1-5). Second, The pillars of jerusalem, extended the Right hand of Fellowship because They agree with Paul's understanding of the Gospel (Gal. 2:9). They also affirm God's commission on Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles. This means he has their informal blessing, apparently with the implication that Gentiles would not be required to keep the Mosaic law (Gal 2:6-10). They did make one request of him; that he remember the poor. Paul from this point on seeks to organize collections for the poor. Somethings he was passionate about doing.

Trouble brewing in Antioch and Peter's dangerous hypocrisy
While still in Jerusalem the persecution under Agrippa begins, he kills James the brother of John (Acts 12:2) and imprisons Peter (Acts 12:3). The Church prayed (including P.B.T.), Peter is miraculously set free. Peter leaves Jerusalem for other places; Leaves church in James hands, made his way through Judea ending up in Antioch. (Acts 12:23, Gal 2:11-13). In Antioch, Peter enjoys fire chicken and fat back with the Gentile Christians and encouraging the Church in the Gospel. Not long after Peter arrived some men came from James encouraged Jewish Christians to eat separately and follow kosher dietary laws (a common practice among Jewish Christians in almost exclusively "Jewish" Jerusalem church). Peter decided to go with the flow, perhaps not realizing that his example would make the Gentile Christians feel like second-class citizens in the church unless they gave up their BBQ and followed Jewish dietary laws (Gal 2:12–14), maybe holidays and festivals (Gal 4:10).

So Peter began to exclusively hangs with his kosher peps and only eats with Jewish believers, in spite of his personal conviction and love of all things with a split hoof drowned in sauce. Peter's example led to other Jewish Christians separating from Gentile Christians. P.B.T. travel back to Antioch (Acts 12:25). Paul does not see Barnabas and Peter at the Wednesday night supper, "BBQ" night and started to wonder. He thinks something maybe wrong, soon he finds out the problem. Paul anticipates how Peter’s behavior threatened the gospel of justification by faith alone because it implied that all Christians had to “live like Jews” (2:14) in order to be justified before God.

Paul publicly rebuke Peter for his hypocrisy. Paul points out that even Jews were not saved by works of the law but by faith in Christ (Gal 2:11-16). A fundamental perspective with which Peter himself would have agreed (Acts 10:1-11:18). Peter's repentance sends shockwaves though Antioch and sends the "false brothers" heading for the hills. Peter returns to Jerusalem with new found conviction.

First missionary Journy
Paul and Barnabas continue ministering in Antioch with new found strength and the church matured into a dynamic community of Word and Spirit grounded in the gospel of grace. The confrontation did not lead to the church falling apart but strengthened their conviction in the gospel. At an appointed time, The Spirit of God called Paul and Barnabas to preach and plant church's in mordern day southern turkey then known as Galatia (southern Galatia). They set off on the first missionary journey, preaching the gospel, ministering in power and planting church's from town to town (Acts 13:4–14:26). They spent around 18 months on this first mission.

The letter to the Galatians and the justification controversy
After returning to Antioch Paul gets word some so called teachers (judaizers) had come in behind them trying to make the Gentiles jump through Jewish hoops clamming it was how they could be saved (acceptable before God)? The subversive element kicked out of Antioch laid low and followed in the footsteps of Paul sowing their false gospel of acceptance with God through Jesus plus the law. Paul wastes no time, he writes the letter of Galatians in response and sends it to the churches of southern Galatia. (cf. Acts 14:26–28). In it he argues that justification is received only by faith in Christ not by circumcision, nor any other work of the law. Paul writes in the hope that the letter will turn the church from this error and back to the truth. He is battling for the hearts and minds of God's people with only parchment and a pen to win them. Yet through the Spirit's inspiration flowing through his personality ink and divine authority would mingle and truth. In Galatians, Paul would some experience the truth he would write of in few years down the road when he said, "If God be for you, who can stand against you."

The Second development: The Jerusalem Council
In Antioch, more trouble makers cause the controversy to come to a head. (Acts 15:1-2) Paul and Barnabas return to Jerusalem for a grand showdown to settle the question "how do Gentiles become Christians?" At the Jerusalem Council, Peter, Paul and Barnabas give Testimony, with the assistance of James, make it clear Gentile believers do not need circumcision to be accepted into God's people, thus implying the only requirement is faith in Christ finished work that purifies the heart (Acts 15:3–29). The regeneration of the heart is the only requirement for salvation and acceptance into the people of God (Acts 15:9-10).
II. Jerusalem Counsel
The jerusalem counsel was convened to answer the theological question that rises from affirming that Gentiles can be Christians? It is a question of method. How do Gentiles experience justification by faith or ritual? How do Gentiles experience acceptable with god by faith or obedience to the Law?In short, How do Gentiles get saved? What makes one acceptable before God?(Acts 15:1). Implicate in the question is an ecclesiological question, What makes one a Christian? Or what makes one accepted into the people Of God?

How are the Gentles justified?
Answer: Gentles are saved by Faith alone. Justification is received only by faith in Christ. Peter said to the counsel that, God "made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.... we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."(Acts 15:9, 11) So, Salvation is by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. Add anything to that and its not gospel. It is all grace: for the regeneration of the heart is the only requirement for salvation and only way sinners are made acceptable before God and gain acceptance into the people of God. Faith alone in Christ finished work purifies the heart and justifies the sinner.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Testament History and Letters: Three observations from letter of James

A.) James view of Wisdom: Wisdom and James' Pastoral Exhortation.
1. James is a good Hebrew boy. He read the law, Psalms and Proverbs. Wisdom comes from the law. It gives us practical wisdom for fragmented relationships. He also learned from Jesus, who was the wisdom of God.

2. The idea behind the Hebrew word for wisdom seems to be the ability to apply knowledge to the life. For the Jews, wisdom involved the ability to perceive the proper conduct necessary in light of the knowledge one possessed. The Hebrew idea of Wisdom is more action than insight, more practical than ethereal. biblical wisdom is advice that heals division and guards against fragmentation for it produces integrity. Like Jesus, wisdom's aim is reconciliation and restoration. Like Jesus, wisdom is from God. Wisdom comes from God, not just from the text. A wise person can take a Biblical truth (for example: God's character) and make it live in the middle of a sinful word. Wisdom alive in a soul is the biblical skill of living well and the art of applying truth to life. James had this trait in spades.

3. The Jewish mind understands that a man who lives wisely by the law has integrity of self and  others.  James’s exhortation to a wisdom that is sourced in the Scriptures and resourced by God. Biblical wisdom begins with learning but ends in wisdom as a character trait. (Jam 3:17-18)

        a.)  James 1:5: Now, on most occasions when we think about this passage, we are thinking about decisions we have to make, something unknown that we want God to show us. We need to know which school to send our children to or which job we are supposed to take. So we turn to this passage and find comfort: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.” That is a wonderful help that this passage brings to us. However, if we take a look at James understanding of wisdom we see that James has a meaning much more profound than God giving us the cheat sheet to some test in life.
        b.) Wisdom is more than just decision making. In verses 2-4: the situation is “trials of various kinds.” in which we ask for wisdom. 
        c.) It is always a helpful thing when thinking through a text to ask, “Does the author talk about this idea any other place in his writing?” Let's look at James 3:13 were James uses the word wisdom again. In James 3:13-15, James describes two kinds of wisdom
                i.) One ‘wisdom' is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (and as we all know can seem practical and reasonable – might can seem right) What is wisdom that is unspiritual? Notice how james describes it as “bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts.”
                ii.) The second kind of wisdom in v 17, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Notice how James uses the word wisdom. There are two kinds in his mind, a false wisdom and a true wisdom. It seems like James is equating wisdom with character. Wisdom for James has to do with character, as in the contrast of bitter jealousy with gentleness or peace.
         d.) Back to James chapter 1 and keep James' definition of wisdom in your mind. You are in the midst of a trial, “If any of you lacks wisdom,” that means, “If any of you lacks gentleness, peace, if any of you lacks being full of mercy and good fruit, let him ask. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
         e.) James view of wisdom as Character becomes much more profound for the believer. If you are in the midst of a trial and you are responding to that trial with bitter jealousy or envy or anger and you need wisdom from heaven, you need the grace from heaven to respond to that trial in a way that imitates the character of God, ask and He will give it. The wisdom he gives will change the whole self.
         f.) The opposite of wisdom: Foolishness, Emotionalism, indifference, and Thoughtlessness are opposite terms. These traits will cause us to base our decision making on faulty premises and over emotional thinking. Therefore, we will be unable to make good and healthy choices, thereby leading us into bad situations and strife. These rotten fruits will cause us to be calloused and unconcerned about truth or what is virtuous and right. In so doing, we become the fool described in Proverbs. (Foolish is a moral category in proverbs).

4. An ear-mark of wisdom as a character trait in both the OT and in Jesus’ teaching is prudent speech. A corrupt tongue, quarreling, and arrogant boasting are countered with confession and humble prayer, An earmark of wisdom in both the Old Testament and Jesus’ teaching is prudent speech. A lot of what James writes against is corrupt tongue, quarreling, and arrogant boasting. This is all in the presence of confession and humble prayer. He says those do not naturally go together in a fallen world. We have to get these together.

B.) James view of the law: ‘Royal law’ (2:8) and ‘the law that gives freedom’ (1:25; 2:12)
1. For James, godly wisdom is rooted also in the law. The law gives us the information needed to walk Christ-like. It gives us practical wisdom for fragmented relationships. In terms of James’s view of the law, we can see it is the royal law. It is the law that gives liberty. These are very close to the way that Jesus applies the law. He talks about the love of neighbor and the priority of mercy over judgment. In short, Law-keeping is wise living.

2.  James 2:5-11

a) You can hear some of the themes of Sermon on the Mount all through the letter, but particularly in v. 5-7. It is like James was listening to Jesus when He gave the Sermon on the Mount.
b) James even summarizes the law in the same way Jesus does. "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right."(Jam 2:8)
c) "But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (Jam 2:9-10) James does not say this to say that you should not keep the law because it is impossible to keep. He says it to say that you should do it.  He admits we can't keep it perfectly, but because we can't does not mean we give up. He wants us to see the wisdom for life in the law.
d) "For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” (Jam 2:11) In other words, the law is not a buffet line. The law is not a smorgasbord. It is not something you pick and choose. We should not cast the law aside because we can't follow it perfectly nor should we pick and choose  which of the commandments we follow. In so doing James seeks to protect the integrity of the law and keeps the definition of sin from fragmenting into personal preferences.

3. Three important hermeneutical keys for law-keeping from James

a) James insists on the fact that you must understand the law as interpreted by Jesus. Jesus summarized and accentuated the law in a certain way. Jesus gave a summary of the law in the commands of love. James is right on board with his older brother.
        1.) The law is good; but how is it Good.
             i.) The law reveals the character of God.  The law points to perfection. The ground of all law is God's character. The value behind the command points to his character.
             ii.) The Law gives a sketch of the created order. The law was given because of sin so it outlines the way things ought to be. It gives us a picture of authentic existence.   
b) In James 2:8, 2:12, we can see 3 very important hermeneutical keys for law-keeping
             i.) It is a standard, not a suggestion.
             ii.) Love your neighbor is our summery and center motive.
             iii.) Mercy triumphs over judgment is our method of application.

4. The third use of the law: the law for our sanctification.

a) The third use of the law is the primary and proper use of the law for Christians. James like a good Jew, really emphasizes the role of the law in the life of the believer. The law is good; therefore the law is to instruct us in righteousness as believers, and direct us in sanctification.
b) Sanctification is growing in christlikeness. If Christ's life was marked by complete obedience in fulfilling the Law, being Christ like will be marked by law-keeping in the gospel. The difference is our keeping is not measured by perfection but by covenant love and gratitude for another competed its requirements so we can received its blessings, put another way it is measured in the gospel.

C.) Character of Christian Community
1.James deploys familiar topics from the Old Testament wisdom tradition to address the threat of fragmentation in the community, arising from a lack of integrity. Practical faith on the part of believer. Joy and patience in the midst of trials. The nature of true Christian wisdom, attitude of rich to poor, abuse and proper us of the tongue (language, words). Being a door of the Word not just a hearer and explaining the futility of dead faith and the subtle deceptive division between 'what one believes' and 'what one does' that leads to dead faith.

2. He points out that friendship with the world is enmity with God (4:4). Wealth is to be used to build solidarity in the community (2:15-16) rather than an instrument of oppression or of one’s own security. It is interesting that in Jesus’ parables about wealth, He talks about a shrewd use of wealth in terms of building relationships. Wealth should be an instrument of solidarity, not an instrument of oppression or separation. James joins Jesus and Paul in offering strong warnings to “the rich” without condemning wealth as such.

3. Power and Place of confession. “Confess your faults one to another and be healed” (Jas 5:16). A call to confession in terms of the tongue. Look at James 5:13-16.

a.) Today, the church have lost the language of confession. It is really important that we not only confess our sins to God but that we also confess our sins to each other. There is really no way to break the power of an addiction if you keep it a secret or if you just talk about it to God. This is the individualism and isolationist approach to sanctification. “It is just Jesus and me trying to fight against my sin.”
b) Such silence and individualism goes against the corporate emphasis of what it means to be incorporated into the people of God in the New Testament. The notion of confession of sin to one another is a vital weapon in our sanctification.
c) We must develop trusting relationships and develop relationships to the point where we can have those people in our lives. We need to be wise. Not everybody, but somebody. We need people in our lives among God’s people who know exactly what is going with us.
“He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone….The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur, because though [we] have fellowship as believers, [we] do not as ‘sinners’. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.”
                                                   Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 100
d) Bonhoeffer's words are a  word of rebuke to many of us and many of our churches. We have created pious fellowships where it is impossible to be a sinner. No wonder no one wants to come who does not know Jesus. They are not welcome because no sinners go there!
e) The thing about confession is that it is fraternal twins. As God’s people we confess two things together all the time. We confess our sins, and we confess our faith in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. We have to do both. If we just confess our faith in the Gospel, that is not the full Gospel. The Gospel is, first, the bad news that we are sinners, second, the good news that God forgives sin in christ. We need to confess our sins and confess our faith.
James offers a vision of a mutually supportive community whose members confess their sins to one another, pray for one another, and encourage one another in moral integrity (Jas. 5:16, 19-20).
                                                               W. Brown, Character in Crisis, 160.

New Testament History and Letters: Letter of James overview and insights

The Letter of James: overview and insights

Intro: For a young community of Jesus with practical questions about how to be a Christian. Who better than the half brother of jesus, one of the the leaders at the church at Jerusalem to write on practical Christian living. The letter of James is a practical help for a community to represent Christ.

A. Author

1. Who James? The title of this book derives from the name of its author, James the Just (as he was called), the brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55) and leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15). Most scholars agree regarding his authorship.

2. Why James? [Note: Understanding the Author will help understand why he wrote as he did.]

a. James family history
The author of this letter gives us practically no information about himself He calls himself simply: "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Jas 1:1). Who then is He? In the New Testament their are apparently at least five people who bear that name but tradition hold James, to be James half-brother of Jesus.

i.) Grew up with Jesus
Evidence about this James. From the New Testament we learn that he was one of the brothers of Jesus (Mk 6:3; Matt 13:55). James grew up with Jesus. Jesus was to him an older brother. As brothers they played together, were schooled together and learned carpentry together. No doubt Jesus tutored James and many of these things. Imagine all the times they talked around the dinner table. He saw Jesus life out his life up close and personal.

ii.) Unbelieving during Jesus Ministry
During Jesus' ministry it is clear that his family did not understand or sympathize with him and would have wished to restrain him (Matt 12:46-50; Mk 3:21; Mk 3:31-35; Jn 7:3-9). So, then, during Jesus' earthly ministry James was numbered amongst his opponents. How many times did he hear the story about Jesus birth, but was a hearer and not a doer. he was double minded about his brother's identity, untill after the resurrection.

iii.) Conversion and Calling
In 1 Cor 15 Paul gives us a list of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus and includes the words: "Then he appeared to James" (1 Cor 15:7). During the 40 days jesus remained on the earth he appeared to James. James came to faith after Jesus' appeared to him after the resurrection. James became a leader in the church. Numbered among the three pillars at the church in Jerusalem. Ac 12:17, Gal 2:9, Ac 15.

b. James was a wise leader.
James letter gives evidence he is steeped in the Old Testament particularly, the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. He must have read it a whole bunch. James contains more than 40 allusions to the OT. Also We hear echoes of Jesus' example in James' Letter. Taken as a whole the description is a beautiful picture of Christ-likeness. In a special way, James could say he remembered seeing Jesus respond with patience and perseverance to the mundane and manic moments common to all who doing life together. James must have recalled the way Jesus handled life's issues and added them to how he explained we should respond to life. Also James may also have learned from the disciples about his Lord and half-brother. There are more than 20 allusions to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). All these factors make James something of a "community organizer", one who could diagnosis and speak to the practical issues of life together.

c. James was know for passionate devotion and intercession.
Don't let the strait forward style and authoritative tone of Jame's writing bring you to think he was a cold legalistic Pharisee, or only conserved with Christians doing stuff. To the contrary, He was a committed and pious man, a man concerned with the heart (4:1-3). He was deeply committed for he knew the error of indecisiveness. We see this in his focus on single-mindedness. Church history tells us he was nicknamed James the "camel kneed" because of the great time he spent in prayer. It is no wonder he spoke of controlling of the tongue. A man who knows how to pray knows the power of the tongue. He surly, reflected on years wasted with Jesus across the dinner table, all the conversations left unsaid, but now he had a second chance and prayer was the avenue. He would be martyred by the Jewish leaders in 62 AD. There is a description in Church History of James that is helpful.
the Lord's brother, James, he whom all from the time of the Lord to our own day call the Just, ..... To him alone was it permitted to enter the Holy Place, for neither did he wear wool, but linen clothes. And alone he would enter the Temple, and be found prostrate on his knees beseeching pardon for the people, so that his knees were callous like a camel's in consequence of his continual kneeling in prayer to God and beseeching pardon for the people.
B. Style and Content of Letter

1. It is a Curricular letter
He is writing a Curricular letter - a letter meant to be passes around from church to church. You can remind class James audience was Jewish house church's in Palestine (maybe beyond) scattered by persecution and lacking instruction. (Jam 1:1, Acts 8:1) The genre of the letter can be understood as wisdom teaching. Wisdom teaching for those inside the covenantal community. It assumes that you are already in. James writes to Christians. He writes to the covenant community. Wisdom teaching is for the fork in the road. It is between being wise and being a fool. It is between righteousness and wickedness. It is between good and bad. We are not talking about getting into the covenantal community. 

2. It is a practical letter
Content summery: James is conserved with the real conditions in the churches. James’s primary theme is full commitment, living out one’s faith, being a doer and not just a hearer of the word. This theme is developed in view of the social conflict between rich and poor and the spiritual conflict between factions in the church and in all believer's hearts. James rebukes his readers for their worldliness and challenges them to seek divine wisdom in working out these problems and getting right with God so they can build a community of faith that is strong.

3. A sermon in letter form: James pens a preachy postal parchment.
James letter is not a traditional letter. It is best understood as a sermon. It is as if James pulled some of his best sermon points and complied them into one helpful little letter. A basic structure of the letter can be seen that will help in readers.

       I.   Intro 1:1
            1. How to handle the issues of life 1:2-18
            2. Rules for life within the church 1:19-3:18
            3. Rules for life beyond the church 4:1-12
       II. Concluding remarks 5:7-20

4. Community, individualism and James
James is deeply Jewish, so Jewish he smells like kosher dill. This said, it reminds us, we can't let American individualism influence our reading. From the outset James' passion is with life within the believing community while it is true that each must assume his or her individual responsibility to make the community healthy the concern is not with personal devotion as much as it is with healthy community.

5. The Content of James
Summery: James is conserved with the real conditions in the churches. James’s primary theme is wisdom, living out one’s faith, being a doer and not just a hearer of the word. This theme is developed in view of the social conflict between rich and poor and the spiritual conflict between factions in the church and in all believers’ hearts. James rebukes his readers for their worldliness and challenges them to seek divine wisdom in working out these problems and getting right with God so they can build a community of faith that is strong.

A. Best way to approach the letter of James is to understand it as New Testament Wisdom Literature. Biblical wisdom seeks to produce integrity of self and life. Seeing and Living in rhythm with God and the way he made the world to work.

B.  The problem: James understands the problem as fragmentation. There are threats from outside (persecution, famine) and threats from inside (immaturity etc). You can understand the threats both outside and inside the church as fragmentation. These are threats will fragment Christian character and community. They pull you out of rhythm with God and how he made the world to work. The important key in James way of thinking is the issue of integrity of selfhood and community. Also James aims to calls his readers not only to persevere, but also to repent of double-mindedness and of divided loyalty.
  1. Examples of fragmentation: “Double-mindedness” (1:7), “showing favoritism” (2:1) and “faith without deeds” (2:20) For James, All these divisions are expressions of foolishness. They are things that are out of accord with God’s wisdom. Every one of these examples is an example of fragmenting something that is supposed to go together.
C. James gives the church the wisdom it needs to heal the fragmentation.

Below is a sketch outline showing the flow of the argument from general issues of suffering to specific issue of the community

Address and greeting (1:1)
     I. Building Christian maturity (1:2-1:27)
          A. Trials and temptations (1:2-11)
          B. The evil desire (1:12-18)
          C. True religion is compassion in action (1:19-27)
     II. Building a healthy community (2:1-5:18)
          A. The Effects of sickness in Community (2:1-26)
               1. Sin of favoritism (2:1-13)
               2. Sinful division between Faith and deeds (2:14-26)
          B. The Source of Sickness in community (3:1-18)
               1. Immature Teachers and loose tongues (3:1-12)
               2. True and false wisdom (3:13-18)
          C. James Rx Pad: Symptoms and Antedates for the community (4:1-5:18)
               1. Friendship with the world (4:1-10)
               2. Slaughter and the desire for money (4:11-17)
               3. The Corrosive Power of wealth (5:1-6)
               4. Patients in the face of suffering (5:7-11)
               5. The prayer of faith and Life together (5:12-18)
Conclusion: The forgiveness of God (5:19-20)

C. Observations:
NOTE: teacher give two or three observations from the text on a major themes in letter. The aim is to give student a feel for the text and author -  three examples are given below [A. B. C. see next post].

A.) James view of Wisdom: Wisdom and James' Pastoral Exhortation.

B.) James view of the law: ‘Royal law’ (2:8) and ‘the law that gives freedom’ (1:25; 2:12)

C.) Character of Christian Community (James 5)

D. Application: Helpful Advice When reading James
1. Take your time. Because of its many starts and stops and turns, it is best to take it in small meditative Chunks.

2. Read it out loud to yourself. You will find a kind of sermon quality to the letter. James hopes to persuade and dust to facilitate change in the way God's people live in community with one another.

3. Watch out how you read. Watch out for reading James as though it were addressed to individual believers about their one-to-one relationship with God and others. Nothing could be farther from James' his own concern. He is concerned with healthy community. As you read ask yourself how is James encouraging me to be a part of a health community. What does he want me to stop doing so I am not a cancer to the body of Christ. (In other words read James with your mind not on "what is good for me" but "what is good of the group." Jesus' ethics was "other" centered - love God "the divine Other" and love thy neighbor the "human other")

4. Let James be your spiritual director. James frequently uses the rhetorical device of direct command, expressed in the imperative mood of the verb (for example., “be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” 1:22). Their are 50 imperatives in the book’s 108 verses. This abundance of commands is a signal that the writer has a practical bent and is interested in action rather than mere belief as the distinguishing characteristic of Christians. There is also a strongly persuasive stance as the author seeks to move his readers to action. In many places your don't need to look for a deeper meaning instead you need to do the stuff. James is not giving advice but commands.

Monday, September 16, 2013

New Testament History and Letters: Persecution, Expansion and the Epistle of James

Key Text: Acts 6:7, Acts 8:1, 4-7, Acts 9:37, Acts 11:19-26,

The church is born at Pentecost and tensions quickly form between the Jewish leadership and the young church. The young church stalls in Jerusalem until Steven is killed and a persecution forces all but the apostles to scatter into Palestine. Many Churches are formed throughout Palestine, revival fires burn as the persecution subsides. The new communities are young and immature and need instruction. A second wave of persecution coupled with a famine hits Judea hard causing brewing immaturity and ignorance about the way of Christ to erupt into serious conflict within the new churches. In response to the persecution from outside the church and the fracturing from within, James, Jesus' half-brother and leader in Jerusalem pick up his pen and writes the Epistle of James.

The Story: Persecution, Expansion and the Epistle of James

Jerusalem Period - Acts 1-7
God came suddenly and the church was born.  The excitement over the Spirit's coming at Pentecost and the church's growth was only matched by the growing tension the young church has with the Jewish authorities. It is not long before leaders are persecuted. The words still echoed in their ear, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." They had receive power and were doing much good in Jerusalem but as a gospel movement there was little "movement". Almost a year had past and except for those original converts at Pentecost who returned to their distaint native lands (Acts 2:10-11)

Such was true until One day, one man, and His single act of defiance set in motion what God had ordained from the beginning. Stephen, an "up and coming" leader in the church was serving a Hellenist Jew, a plate of hush mouth, with a side of gospel, when some Jews surrounded him and dragged him before the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Stephen was falsely accused of speaking against the temple and the law (6:8-15). He was stone to death but not before displaying forgiveness and declaring the Gospel. Stephen’s radical witness inspirited the Christians but also sparked opposition to the young Christian movement.

Persecution and Expansion Period - Acts 8-12
Stephen's death became a catalyst for more persecution. The fires of persecution explode sending the church out from Jerusalem, that is "except the apostles” (Acts 8:1-3). The believers dispersed throughout Palestine and beyond, begin to share the gospel in their new communities. This is the first time that the gospel is being preached just outside of Jerusalem. In this way, God allowed a great persecution to make the church missional and expand the gospel into all of Palestine. As believers were scattered from Jerusalem, churches are planted all over the countryside (Acts 8:1-2; 4).

The church is exploding because of lay people preaching the Gospel all over Israel. It is a grass roots movement of no name, faceless fire breathing preachers of truth. God's People are scattered from Jerusalem and evangelizing, planting church's and experiencing revival. The gospel is spreading across economic lines, rich and poor are coming to Christ. New churches are transplanted all over Palestine as a result. Beyond Jerusalem much of the church is growing fast among Jewish communities.  Whole synagogues were turning to The Lord and becoming centers of worship for the new believers (Jas. 2:2).

When the Ring leader of the persecution is converted, the persecution cooled. A season of peace settles over Palestine (Acts 9:31). The church is growing bigger but not growing up. It was becoming anemic and immature because of a deep need for seasoned leaders and practical sound teaching. The people needed guidance on how to build strong communities. They do not know what a community that images Christ should look like their only reference point is the Jewish community sick with Pharisaical dialogue (about the Word) without personal action (based on the Word) or religious rhetoric void of communal integrity.

Second wave of persecution under Agrippa Acts 12
A second round of persecution erupted. Agrippa, Herod the Great's grandson, comes to power in Palestine, to please the Jewish hard-liners, begins to persecute the Christians. Agrippa begins by killing, James the brother of John (Acts 12:2) and imprisons Peter (Acts 12:3). Simultaneous with Agrippa’s persecution was a worldwide famine, which seemed particularly acute in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). The resulting poverty was doubly bad for Jewish Christians living in Palestine, for the wealthy landowners and religious aristocracy were siding with Agrippa’s attitude toward Christians.

God has plans for Peter and helps him escape Agrippa's grip. Peter escapes by the help of your friendly neighborhood, Angel of The Lord. After his "Houdini act", Peter contacts James then skips town. (Acts 12:1-19). Peter knows James is wise and can navigate the clicks already forming in the church. So James takes a more prominent role in the leadership of the early church, particularly in Jerusalem as Peter continues his work of encouraging and evangelizing the community at large.

The Jewish Christian communities may have been established due to the first persecution, but they were tested by the second through both scarcity of resources and social oppression (Jas 1:2-1:18). These troubles tested the church, escalated the festering problems of immaturity in the churches. When troubles shake us what is in us comes out. Many pockets of immaturity began to surface because of the persecution and famine, certainly some had already been evident beforehand but now all was coming to a head. The church was much like a teenager, longing for direction and identity but selfish and impulsive, quick to say things it did not mean even quicker to confusing knowledge for wisdom. So in this persecution the church's deep sin issues rise to the surface.

After this time, believers from around Palestine came to Jerusalem and word reached James about the state of the church outside Jerusalem. Testimonies of God's provision and goodness are followed by footnotes about some believers failure to “practice what they preach” and the tendency toward Roman thinking (confidence in self rather than confidence in God). He heard stories of the immaturity, how believers are hurting one another with uncontrolled and critical speech, discriminating against the poor, and giving preferential treatment to the rich. Due to the oppression and famine, tempers were short and compassion shorter. Christian began acting out of survival mode and so selfishness was justified. The door was open and conflict entered the churches. Many church's had splintered into fighting factions. Others, weary from persecution were wavering in their commitment.

The reports still ringing in the ear of James (the Lord’s half-brother), and he is burdened to address it. Overshadowed by the Spirit, James goes to his study to write down what the church needs to hear.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell